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April 10, 2019

KVCC launches programs to meet workforce needs

Kennebec Valley Community College Courtesy / Kennebec Valley Community College Kennebec Valley Community College students frame out a wall in the college's basic carpentry class, which launched in January.

Kennebec Valley Community College has launched classes in basic carpentry, pipe welding and commercial driving that are aimed at meeting workforce shortages in Maine.

The new classes complement longer-established classes in the college's workforce training and professional development division. Just as importantly, officials said, the college is making a push to make more people —potential students as well as employers — aware of the classes.

It also wants to make employers aware that it’s willing to tailor programs to employers’ specific needs, the college’s president, Richard Hopper, told Mainebiz.

“We hope to stimulate demand and help the public understand they can come to us and get the training they need,” he said. “For instance, there’s clearly a need for plumbers, for electricians, for HVAC, for computer technology — all of these positions are in demand. Welding is very hot right now. All of these professions are good-paying jobs.”

The potential student pool, he said, includes anyone who’s unemployed, underemployed underskiilled, or looking to change jobs or professions.

“There’s a large portion of adults in Maine who lack training. We’re reaching out to them,” he said. “What’s important is that the population become aware of these possibilities and contact their local community college — whether it’s KVCC or other community colleges in other regions — to get a sense of what’s available or what we can design for them.”

The college you don't see

Courtesy / Kennebec Valley Community College
A student practices structural welding as part of Kennebec Valley Community College new welding offerings.

KVCC offers both credit-bearing degree and certificate programs; both are eligible for financial aid. It offers shorter, non-credit continuing businesses and industry training that’s focused on building skills in the existing adult workforce and even in younger people just getting into the labor market, he said.

“I often refer to it as the college you see and the college you don’t see,” Hopper said. “The college you see is the catalog. The college you don’t see is all the customized and standard labor training we do. We’re hoping to make that more visible.”

Hopper said he and program directors are trying to get word out through traditional and social media and by talking directly with companies.

“We often pull together customized training programs for individual companies,” he said. “And we can serve small and medium size companies that might not have training programs themselves. We can serve as a training center that they maybe can’t afford or coordinate on their own.”

The college can coordinate training at low cost and often at no cost, he said.

“We’re hoping that small and medium size businesses understand what we can provide to them,” he said. “I think people always look at the community college as a place you go for a two-year associate’s degree.”

Heavy-equipment simulator

Courtesy / Kennebec Valley Community College
KVCC's new heavy-equipment simulator was acquired to help meet workforce needs.

Jeff Sneddon, dean of workforce training and professional development, said new programs include commercial driver license Class B training for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers and bus drivers. The program is run in collaboration with Maranacook Adult Education. Other new initiatives, in partnership with Cianbro, include pipe welding and basic carpentry courses for under- and unemployed workers. The training is not exclusively for Cianbro, Sneddon noted.

Courses are run at night or on weekends.

“If you’re underemployed or working two or three jobs, you can’t do traditional middle-of-the-day classes,” he said. “So we’re running alternative schedules.”

The school also acquired a heavy-equipment simulator and installed it on a 22-foot custom-made trailer as a mobile classroom for on-site training at jobs or schools. That program is free for the unemployed and underemployed.

“We have a couple of students who have taken basic carpentry and now they want to take the heavy equipment class,” Sneddon said. “We’re trying to mix and match.”

The courses are still too new to determine outcomes, he noted.

Hopper said there are additional economic reasons to attract more adult students.

“Right now, the economy is doing well,” he said. “My fear is that there will be a downturn at some point. People are better off with skills and training and credentials when the economy takes a downturn. They’re less likely to become unemployed, and if they do become unemployed, it’s likely for a shorter period of time. So we’re trying to help people hedge their bets against a downturn.”

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